It’s always a pleasure to welcome my friend and fellow author Sue Barnard onto the blog. She tells us how the advice to “write the book you want to read” led her into historical fiction. I’ve had a sneak peek at Sue’s latest book, Heathcliff (more about it below), and so I know you’re in for a treat when it’s published.
Sue Barnard: I’ve often thought that historical fiction is the nearest I’ll ever get to time-travel. And although I’ve always loved reading historical fiction, I never imagined I would end up writing it.
That came about purely by accident, when a few years ago I chanced upon the prompt WRITE THE BOOK YOU WANT TO READ. The book I’ve always wanted to read is the alternative version of Romeo & Juliet – the one in which the young lovers don’t fall victim to a maddeningly preventable double suicide. Why, I asked myself, should there not be such a book? And the answer came straight back: Why not indeed? And if it doesn’t already exist, then go ahead and write it. The eventual result was The Ghostly Father, which is set mostly in sixteenth-century Italy. The idea for the book came first; it turned out to be historical because of the setting of the story.
Getting into the mind of a sixteenth-century Italian friar (the eponymous Ghostly Father) was an interesting task. As well as carefully studying the original Romeo & Juliet text, I also had to investigate daily life in a monastery, revise my rusty O-Level Latin, and research the herb-lore which plays such a critical part in Shakespeare’s play. Then I had to transfer all this, plus the locations, to the page – all the while desperately trying to avoid turning the whole thing into what my husband would describe as “a Wikipedia novel”!
But historical fiction doesn’t necessarily always have to mean the dim and distant past. My second novel, Nice Girls Don’t, is set in 1982 (within my own living memory, but outside that of anyone born later), with links back to both World Wars. It draws largely on my own memories of that era, and is meant as a trip down memory lane for those who do remember the 1980s. For those who don’t, I hope it demonstrates how things have changed, hopefully for the better, over the course of just one generation.
Getting the facts right is always important (unless you’re writing sci-fi or fantasy, when you can really let your imagination run wild and free), but especially so in historical fiction; you can’t afford to get even the tiniest detail wrong. This is a problem I had to overcome with my latest novel, Heathcliff (yes, that is THE Heathcliff), which is due out later in 2018.
As the title suggests, the book is based on Wuthering Heights, and speculates about what might have happened to Heathcliff during the three years when he disappears from the original story. I started out with a brilliant idea about how he might have spent those missing years, but almost immediately hit a brick wall. The dates in Wuthering Heights are so precise that they turned out to be extremely restrictive. Heathcliff’s missing years are 1780 to 1783. My original plan was that he would have spent these years as a pirate, but unfortunately the golden age of piracy was several decades too early. Then I thought that maybe he could have made his fortune in the American or Australian gold rush, but when I looked into that possibility, I discovered that the gold rush years were not until the mid-1800s. Back at the drawing-board I did eventually find one idea which coincided with the right dates, but you’ll have to read the book to find out what that was…
Sue Barnard is a British novelist, editor and award-winning poet whose family background is far stranger than any work of fiction. She would write a book about it if she thought anybody would believe her.
She has a mind which is sufficiently warped as to be capable of compiling questions for BBC Radio 4’s fiendishly difficult “Round Britain Quiz”. This once caused one of her sons to describe her as “professionally weird.” The label has stuck.
In addition to working as an editor for Crooked Cat Books, Sue is the author of four novels: The Ghostly Father, Nice Girls Don’t, The Unkindest Cut of All and Never on Saturday. Her fifth novel, Heathcliff, is due out later in 2018.
She lives in Cheshire, UK, with her extremely patient husband and a large collection of unfinished scribblings.
Connect with Sue
Never on Saturday: Amazon
Copyright © 2018 Sue Barnard, Vanessa Couchman, all rights reserved